'TOO MUCH TO BEAR'
Prominent Westmoreland bishop bemoans spike in funerals for young murder victimsThursday, June 10, 2021
BY HORACE HINES
SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland - As the number of funerals he has been asked to officiate for murder victims since the start of the year balloons, head of the Ark of the Covenant Holy Trinity Church in Savanna-la-Mar Westmoreland, Bishop Oneil Russell, is expressing grave concern over the rampant bloodletting among the youths in the parish.
The churchman shared that of the roughly 30 burial rites he has performed since January, more than 60 per cent of them are for youngsters who were killed violently.
“Since the start of this year I have done roughly 30 funerals and out of the 30 I have done 19 for persons who were murdered. I did a double murder of a young man and a young woman who were killed down by Russia, another of a young man in Russia...I could go on and on,” Russell bemoaned.
“We cannot continue to live like this. I have done so many funerals for young people who were murdered. We cannot continue to have it like this, we have to find ways to stem the bloodletting. We have become so engulfed in this killing. It is like people sit down and study how I must kill that person tomorrow, and we must find a way of dealing with it.”
Up to Monday, there were 40 murders recorded by the Westmoreland police, representing an increase of seven or 21 per cent over the same period last year. Shootings, over the corresponding period, skyrocketed by nearly 50 per cent.
Bishop Russell, who is also a senior Peace Management Initiative (PMI) violence interrupter, but who made it clear that he is not authorised to speak to the media on behalf of the PMI, lamented that he has known most of the murder victims from infancy.
“It brings pain to my heart to watch them grow, watch them die and then have to officiate over their funeral, it is really heart-rending...it hurts and we have to find ways to help,” the clergyman stressed.
“Ninety per cent of the young people dying in Westmoreland, I know them. And then when they die the family approaches me to come to some of these areas.
“As a senior violence interrupter I work in these areas, I sit with these youths, I know what they are going through, I see what they are going through and when they lose somebody, Oh God, the pain that they themselves go through. When they lose a friend, when they hear that a young man they know got shot and killed you have to be there with them daily to make sure that they are counselled and there is no revenge.”
Recently, the top brass of the Westmoreland Police Division expressed alarm over the high percentage of juveniles involved in murders and other major crimes in the parish.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Adrian Hamilton, who heads operations in the parish, argued that as a result of breakdown in families, juveniles become easy recruits for gangs.
“It is particularly concerning, the continued involvement of at-risk youth in the commission of major crimes throughout the parish. I am talking about juveniles in need of care and protection left on their own by various circumstances but primarily through bad parenting, absence of a positive support system, unloved and unprotected. They are mere pawns to the criminal gangs based in their communities. With no respect or value for sanctity of life and access to illegal firearms, they become toxic murderers preying on the citizens of the parish,” ASP Hamilton charged.
Bishop Russell attributes the uptick in murders committed by youngsters to “generational war”.
“The murders in Westmoreland are not a war for turf, it is not a war where you have a leader over there who is warring because he wants to keep his turf. That's not the war that is fighting in Westmoreland. This war in Westmoreland is a generational war. A young man grows up and hears that his family… his father, his uncle killed by a faction over there, he grows up with that revenge,” Russell argued.
He shared that he is personally working to bridge the standoff between different communities. He noted that up until the novel coronavirus pandemic, football was the vehicle which was successfully used to unite the warring factions.
“You have persons who cannot go over into other communities. That is one of the things personally I am working on because I am able to go into any of these communities. So, what we were doing was using football and it was working until the pandemic where the gathering has been limited. It was working well where persons from Dalling Street started to come back to Cooke Street and persons from one community could go back and forth. What we were trying to do is bridge the border with football and it worked,” he stated.
But the man of the cloth, who had high praises for the work of the Westmoreland police and the PMI in their efforts to bring crime in the parish under control, blasted some agencies he accused of not pulling their weight. He, however, did not name the agencies.
“One of my concerns is these agencies that are supposed to go into communities and help people... these people (representatives of agencies) are falling down. These people (representatives of agencies) are sitting down not doing what they are supposed to do.
“Yes, PMI is doing everything in these communities in Westmoreland that they are in currently, but at the same time we also need other agencies who are responsible to come in.”
He also charged that the State is failing the youngsters who live in communities that have become so stereotyped with violence to an extent that residents cannot provide their correct addresses when applying for a job.
“When a young man come to me and say, 'Bishop Russell, I would like you to give me a recommendation, but don't put where I live on it', it hurts me because I can't do it because I am going to lie. I can't put another address on it. And it is like I failed the young man.”
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